Epiphany 3C January 23, 2022

 “Good News in the Time of COVID” – January 23, 2022  

The Rev. Debra Slade

 Can anyone relate to the feeling that sometime happens during these pandemic times – the feeling that something feels …. normal? Yes, I know it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does occasionally happen – wow, that feels good! For me it happened on New Years Eve. I have never been particularly fond of New Year’s Eve. There is always the expectation that it should be really fun, and if you are not having a really good time, then you must be a loser or something equivalent to that. In my life, I can only remember what I would call a spectacular New Year’s Eve (I’ll leave that one for another sermon), and a few memorable ones. But all, in all, most were either boring or disappointing. So, I went into this New Year’s Eve with a very low bar for fun happening. It was a pandemic, after all. But I was wrong, not only was it fun, it felt normal despite the fact we did quite an unusual thing. I have shared that our daughter Laura has had to cancel her wedding twice – the first date was 7/11/2020, the second was 7/14/2021, and the new date is 4/9/2022, and this one is going to happen come rain or come shine, pandemic variant or no pandemic variant. So, in anticipation of the wedding which will be on a farm in Gilbertsville, NY, Laura’s fiancé Joe bought her a baby goat gram visit as a Christmas present. So, on New Year’s Eve, we hosted a small informal party of family and neighbors outside, with the main attraction being a herd of baby goats and their mamas roaming around in our backyard while we sat at bonfire, sipped hot chocolate and ate our other daughter Emma’s amazing chocolate chip cookies. We also got to hold the baby goats. So cute. I totally recommend it. With fairy lights lighting up our deck, it was heaven and also normal at the same time. It was normal because the whole family had gathered, not possible last New New Year’s Eve of 2020, and also because we were hanging out, just having fun. Remember that feeling of just having fun, with no fears, nothing to worry about, just fun. It felt so good. As the new year of 2022 was on the heels of this goat party, it felt, well, it felt like GOOD NEWS.  

And today’s readings are about that – Good News – and what that means for those of us who have faith. And for the last almost two years, the subject of what good news means has been more than biblical, it has been at the very core of our existence. Sadly, since March of 2020, there has been a little bit of good news and a lot of very bad news, at least in terms of what was happening in the world. And, I don’t know about you, but for me it has seemed like just when we felt things were moving in the good news direction – wham – it was bad news again. It seems like only yesterday that I was making a joke in my last sermon about John the Baptist wearing the word Omicron on his beanie, and then wham, here it came, our hospitals filled up again, and it was bad news again, particularly for those who became ill and those who took care of them. In both of our readings – one from the Hebrew Bible and the other from the Gospel of Luke -- we hear about how people of faith were given good news when they gathered together. In the reading from Nehemiah in the Hebrew Bible, we see the people of Israel assembled before the Water Gate in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. The Water Gate is significant as it is where the people acquired their water, and symbolically, their nourishment from the scriptures. And, it became a place that ushered in, and foretold, good news for them. For as they heard the words of scripture that were found in the words of the law of Moses, they reacted by weeping as when they remembered their transgressions, and in doing so were also invited to rejoice and celebrate in the good news that “this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).  

In our Gospel from Luke (with the word “gospel” being translated from the Greek word   “euangelion” and literally meaning good “spiel” - news), we find Jesus being at another event where   the Jewish people are assembled to hear scripture. This time, he is at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. One senses that he is asked to read from the Hebrew Bible because this a normal   expectation of some of those attending worship, and that the reading from Isaiah may have been the appointed reading for that day. After Jesus reads the memorable words of the Isaiah 61 scripture   proclaiming that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news   to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor” Jesus doesn’t explain what it   means or teaches about it to the gathered assembly, instead he sits down and proclaims that TODAY – that day, the scripture has been fulfilled through him. This must have been quite a remarkable pronouncement for those who remembered him as the hometown boy, the son of Joseph. There had been remarkable stories about Jesus that preceded this day, but his words in the Temple were a confirmation by him that he was the messiah. Not surprisingly, the reaction of his hometown people was not favorable when Jesus didn’t do the miraculous things that they had heard he did in another town, and when they realized that the good news he proclaimed that day hadn’t cured all of the problems they had – the bad news – that described their lives at that time. They got so mad at him, in fact, that they drove him out of town and were going to throw him off a cliff! Jesus’ hometown people expressed the same frustration that we feel when good news is not forthcoming, and it doesn’t feel like whatever bad news we are feeling is ever going to change. And no time is more frustrating for people than now and what we have all been experiencing – “where is the good news in all of this, we ask, and when is it finally going to get better?”  

Well, my friends, my answer is that there is good news in all of this right here before us, before us in this sanctuary today, before us in the people who are watching us through the technology of livestream, in all of the beloved people in our community of St. Francis, and in everyone out there in the world who is committed to acting, being and serving the world in hopes to fulfill the message of Christ Jesus which is to love God and love each other. We and these faithful people are what we call the body of Christ. In the readings appointed for today there was also the first Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 12 verses 12-31 where Paul describes how we, being baptized by the Spirit, form the body of Christ, each with our own unique talents, and how our singular part contributes to the whole. And I can saw I have truly witnessed this in our own community of St. Francis who have continued to maintain our fellowship, our witness and our life-giving supportive community of faith and prayers despite the many twists and turns the pandemic may have put hoisted upon us. Despite the bad news of the pandemic so many people have been committed to serving others, and have continued to put others before themselves, and, in doing so, have shown in their very beings, the true message of Christ’s life and ministry, and modelled Christ’s actions in the world.

This is the good news, and this is gospel! We, who form the body of Christ, combine our special talents together to make the whole bigger and better than the individual parts. This is message of good news that we need to spread far and wide – that you are not alone, and that you are loved, and have always been loved, and that in God’s eyes you are known, forgiven, and loved unconditionally. Despite the bad news, despite the pandemic, despite the way you might think the world feels about you – you are loved, you are most precious in God’s eye, and the world is better for you and your life. And that, my friends, is the best of all possible news, and is, and will always be, Good News! Amen.